Unless you're living under a rock, you've seen éliou's beautifully crafted jewelry. What first started as a hobby between best friends (and housemates) Cristina Mantilla and Duda Teixeira, has grown into the jewelry and accessories brand that Harry Styles not only flaunts on the cover of Vogue, Variety, and in his music videos—but in real life. Harry's not the only one who has fallen under their spell; éliou counts Dakota Fanning, Gigi Hadid, and Vanessa Hudgens as earlier supporters of their colorful approach to accessorizing.
We spoke to the two founders about making flower earrings for their friends in middle school, the steps they took before éliou, and how to transform a passion project into a real career.
This interview took place over the phone between Ella Jayes in Brooklyn and Cristina Mantilla and Duda Teixeira in Miami.
EJ: How did you get to where you are today?
CM: Duda and I met and have been friends since we were seven years old. Throughout the years we’ve always dabbled in different creative elements of our life for either personal passion, client work, or for one of our own small businesses. Our side projects were a shared outlet for each of us to release our innate creative side. Before we started éliou, Duda and I ran a creative agency which we developed back in 2015 when we were only 25. Duda is a phenomenal photographer and when she wasn’t shooting we worked together as stylists, set designers, and art directors.
DT: We would find ourselves making pieces for photoshoots, other brands, and for ourselves. Our work always had a proclivity to being more customized. Our initial instinct was always to get crafty in terms of bringing exclusive pieces to our clients and different ideas to the table for these shoots. At the end of the day someone always asked, "Where can I buy this? Do you guys sell this?", so we started making jewelry on the side. The process was so fluid and natural since it was an activity we were already doing.
CM: At one point we became so inundated with questions and created such a buzz we acquiesced and admitted, "Okay, maybe we should consider doing this for real. We love it. It’s fun. Why not?" Designing and creating jewelry was a lovely hobby that at the time required us to momentarily slow life down and work with our hands. It wasn’t an activity we were ready to let go of. We agreed, "We’ll just open a small Instagram account where local people and friends can send us photos of what they liked." It was never anything overly proper or produced because in our minds it was a side project that allowed us to continue our hobby.
DT: We were fully involved in our other business and in love with what we were doing. We didn't want to lose focus on the agency. But it got to the point where this “hobby” proliferated. Cristy and I would spend nights making the pieces, and shipping them out during the day, and then splitting up, and she would make pieces and I would set the shoot or vice versa. At one point it became conspicuous that the agency needed to be placed on the back burner, and éliou needed to be taken a bit more seriously.
CM: When it came to creating our own content we did it all ourselves. We produced it ourselves, styled it ourselves, shot it ourselves. This part came easy to us since we'd done it for other brands for so many years. For our first “campaign” (if one would even call it that) we shot it outside our studio on a dingy white wall. It's bewildering because in hindsight, looking at where we were then and how nonchalant we were about it all and comparing it to now and how serious it's become; it's a bit of a whirlwind.
CM: And so that's really how it started. When the jewelry line started to gain more traction the agency had to take a back seat until only a few months ago, where we came to the unfortunate reality that we can not manage juggling the two anymore. It was just too overwhelming to try and keep doing it all.
DT: And now we're here and it's been such a pleasure to turn our side passion project into a full-blown career and into something that's very real for us.
CM: And that we equally love just as much. We get to be creative every day with the most amazing team of women. We're immensely grateful to take it beyond this path.
That's so fantastic, that story sounds so fun. I'm sure it was super stressful at times, but it's amazing.
DT: We have jewelry as a hobby background, but some things weren’t so innate, we had to figure out most of it, step-by-step. A lot of mistakes were made, but we take them all as learning lessons.
CM: All of a sudden we started getting some pretty big wholesale accounts reaching out to us. What first started as only a few pieces quickly turned into a whole production. We were getting major orders one after the other.
So what I've gathered so far, is that you kind of just learned to create anything you had a need for: whether it was an agency, a bag, some earrings, etc. Did you have any formal training or did you just go for it?
DT: We've always made pieces for ourselves since we were very young. I remember selling these flower hoop earrings I used to make on the weekends to friends back in middle school, we were making studded tie-dye shorts when that trend was around in the early 2000s during our first year of college.
CM: And it’s what we did for fun. Someone needed a set-builder, and we're like "Yeah, we can do that. I have an idea. Let's just do it." And then we’d get it done. While we were on set as stylists Duda would pick up the camera because oftentimes the photographer never got the angle we were trying to capture. It follows our personal culture of "let's just do it ourselves." So she started doing it so often the photographers on set trusted her to hand over their camera on set until one day she invested in her own. There are all these little niches we're always randomly finding out we like to do. It’s a perpetual journey of trying to find what creative elements we hold inside of us.
Where do you pick up from inspiration and where do you create from? I noticed on your website you described yourselves as "devoted travelers".
DT: When we travel, for sure, it ignites new concepts. I get inspired by my surroundings and ideas seem to flow at a more rapid pace. But sometimes I’ll wake up and be like, "I just had a dream," and be inspired by that, It comes to us so naturally. It happens all the time.
CM: We just got back from Mexico City a few weeks ago. Our entire time there we were surrounded by architecture, food, and culture- deep-diving into the most inspiring artisanal markets. We'd walk by all these elaborate building structures or storefronts and get inspired by a color scheme for a new necklace. We just kept filling up our camera phones from all the colors and originality we saw.
CM: The biggest thing that defines éliou is the combination of Duda and me, and how we're so similar, but unique in our way. 95% of the pieces we design start with me being in the middle of something else and walking over to Duda and saying, "Wow, I love that. You know what could also look cool, try finishing it like this, or adding a second part like that, or do it in this colorway.” Almost every piece is a full-fledged combination of something we've both taken part in. It's a genuine blend of both our ideas, on almost every single piece that we've ever made.
Even just listening to the way you both speak, there is such free-flowing energy. I feel like you're always coming up with ideas because you're always trying them out.
DT: Growing up in Miami has taught me many things, one of them being how to make something work. Being from Miami in the creative industry has always been difficult, outside of Miami no one ever takes you seriously. We had to work three times as hard to get attraction. For how creative we are, figuring out how to make something work is the half of it. This extends into how we make jewelry, it’s an industry we never had “ professional” training in, and figuring it out is the challenge. I am always up for a good challenge.
I'm sure it changes day-to-day, but what's an average day at éliou?
CM: It changes day-to-day.
DT: We live together by the way. It's a 24/7 work-mode-mind, but when you love what you do, is it work?
CM: We both wake up pretty early. First thing we do is exercise in the morning, run home, and then jet set over to the office. Once in the office, Duda and I do our best to try and divide ourselves between our production, operations, design, and marketing departments. Our team has grown exponentially this year and there’s always a lot happening at once. We think it’s important to dedicate time to our team and be involved as much as possible.
DT: We chose a more sustainable path and structured our business around craftsmanship.
All our pieces are produced in-house and handmade. We source all our materials, we go through each and every pearl used, all finished pieces pass a qualification process. The level of consciousness each piece takes is something not mentioned enough but if we take a moment to pause and think about it, there is a story behind each creation. They are passed around, viewed, cared for, and looked after by multiple hands. The pieces have a course of life before leaving our office. Most brands get finished products ready to be shipped out. What we try to provide our customers is a bit of our story.
CM: We have an open floor plan where we share the space with the rest of our team. Our assemblers (also known as our tías/sisters/friends/cousins) take up the left portion of the room and the right side is our shipping area. Duda and I sit at a really long desk with our operations and press team.
Come to our office and you’ll find a room full of Latina women, loudly sharing personal anecdotes, asking a work-related question, or announcing a new recipe someone’s brought in that we all must try. It’s a whole bunch of estrogen in one room. I love it. All of a sudden it goes dead quiet at 4 PM because this is when all of our “tías” go home and that's when Duda and I hit the tables and start designing.
DT: From 9 AM–4 PM we are problem-solving, and then from 4 PM–11 PM we get our personal time to think, create, and strategize.
So, set the scene. What is the design space like once everyone leaves, within the physical space and within your mind?
CM: It's different every night. We usually play music in the office. Sometimes someone will request a French Café playlist, another day it's Bon Iver. When it's just Duda and me, it's pure silence. The day is filled with lots of noise so we use this time to regroup and think.
DT: Not noise, sound.
CM: It's the time for us to catch up; where Duda and I can have a 1-on-1. We talk about our goals, new strategies, design concepts, and future plans.
DT: What is the goal? What kind of company do we want to be? What changes do we want to make? It's like our personal time to communicate, plan, and get creative. Sometimes we'll throw on Netflix. Sometimes wine is involved.
It's ironic how we design, Cristy has everything strategized, all her tools are neatly in front of her juxtaposing my desk with scattered pearls, everything I want to see, everything I want to touch, everything I need to look at. She goes into it with a premeditated idea, and I usually create with more of a “gut” feeling. We're so alike but so different in many ways—it's kinda magical.
What skills do you think are most important for what you're doing right now?
CM: Patience and faith in your craft.
CM: Being an out-of-the-box, creative thinker is something you’ll always need when working in a creative industry. But you also need a business-like mind. The truth is the majority of our day is spent strategizing, problem-solving, overcoming obstacles, and managing people and their different personalities.
DT: I’m not sure if grit would be considered a skill set but that’s an important one. I think what has got us here has been all the hard work and perseverance through the years. Overcoming the growing pains and learning from them and moving past them. We've been working together since high school, and at first, éliou was a fun side project. All the hustle, the perseverance, the grit happened before and pushed us here to be able to lead the team that we have and to make decisions that we think will help us grow outside of a small independent brand and stick around.
So speaking about growing traction, what did you guys think of seeing Harry Styles on the cover of Vogue wearing your pieces? Did you know that was going to happen?
DT: We had no idea. We were in Mexico, and I woke up and I sat there just looking at the photo for so long. When Harry first wore one of our pieces in the "Golden" video, it was a huge thing for us. And then magazine cover, it's been one after the other. I still cannot believe it.
CM: We were just as shocked to see Harry in one of our pieces as anyone was shocked to see the first male on the cover of Vogue. So it came to us as a huge surprise.
We knew that he had access to the pieces because we saw it in the music video, but that he wore them both on and off set was really cool. This major style icon is not just wearing it because someone told him to, but also because he liked it.
He's like your number one fan.
DT: It's really awesome. And we're his number one fan!
Do you remember the first time you saw someone that you admired wearing éliou?
CM: Gigi Hadid was a really cool one because her stylist reached out and said, "We want Gigi layered in éliou for Coachella."
DT: And that was in the beginning, we had just launched our website and a couple of months later, the Coachella thing came out. Also, Vanessa Hudgens, Highschool Musical was on repeat when I was younger!
CM: I remember early on when éliou was still really young, I woke up and my room was pitch black. I opened my phone and remember being blinded by the screen glare. I took a minute to adjust my eyesight and noticed we received a verified message from Vanessa Hudgens saying she loves our stuff. That was a pivotal moment. It’s been flattering to see familiar celebrities buying our stuff.
DT: It's cool to see that these people actually believe in the brand and it's not like we're sending it to them as an influencer.
What's your favorite project you've worked on?
CM: We did a collaboration with an artist and ceramicist, her name is Maxine Midtbo at Memor Studio, and she makes the most original and special vases.
DT: We shipped her a bunch of our pieces, custom beads, and pearls...
CM: And she used them to decorate vases. We're going on our third launch of them this month. Every time they sell out.
What advice do you have for people that are emerging in your field? And for creatives that have a lot of interests, but they don't really know where to put their energy?
DT: Stay true to who you are. Don't try to do something that's already out there. éliou is an extension of us, and that's something we always go back to. Is this us?
CM: I think the second you start to veer off your lane you’ll run into problems when it comes to owning what you're doing. We design things that we want to wear, that we like, and that's kind of been the main focus all along.
Perseverance is huge. When I told my parents I wanted to work in fashion, they weren't not supportive about it, but they were very much along the lines of, "Okay, you know, let's see how it goes." It's been really nice to not necessarily prove them wrong but maybe prove myself wrong more so than anything that you can actually be successful in an already oversaturated industry.
DT: Don't take no for an answer. If you believe in something stick to it.
Because éliou started as a passion project do you ever second guess your work or wish you had gotten more schooling in it?
DT: So to be honest, I didn't finish college. Not that I didn't want to, life had different plans for me at the time. I was self-taught in photography, Cristy and I are both self-taught in photoshop, set design, in building a website. I believe in the power of learning, and I believe if you’re interested in learning you can teach yourself. It’s all about going after what you want. If there is a will there's a way.
CM: I went to college and, honestly, I didn't gain much from my experience. All I have is a bunch of debt that I now have to pay for. If you want to learn how to do something your eagerness will drive you to find the time to make it happen.
What were your most valuable resources?
DT: Trial and error.
I remember with the first couple of pieces we made, there was a point that we took it to a jeweler to review and get his opinion. He literally looked at it and was like, "This is perfect. I can't teach you anything."
CM: It was an eye-opening moment because this guy who had been a jeweler for over 30 years was telling us we needed to have more confidence in ourselves and our designs. He could not believe we had made the pieces we showed him without ever having any formal training.
He seemed to appreciate the fact that we did not have a proper background. It’s what he said made our process unique. We do things differently and we use techniques in a way that someone wouldn't really think of if they were taking a class. We didn't follow the rules and that’s what made our work special.
Last question, what's your favorite piece to wear?
DT: I've been wearing the Sai necklace. It's a gold chain necklace with a giant clasp in the middle–some people call it a key clasp–but I wear it with everything.
CM: I do not take off my Juliette ring. I wear it on my pinky, and I feel like it's a classic addition to every single thing I own. It's my favorite thing we've ever made.
DT: Also the Corbin! The Corbin was designed as an anklet but actually, our customers have taught us it can be used as a necklace and bracelet. I am all about the versatility. It's so hard to pick one!
Curious what the éliou office sounds like? Us too.
This interview was edited and condensed for clarity.
Images Courtesy of Cristina Mantilla + Duda Teixeira